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A Different Christmas, Indeed

When I was younger, my sister and I had an on-going Christmas feud. Every year when my father took out the Christmas lights to decorate our tree he would ask us the question that started it all - colored or white?

At the same time as my sister yelled’ “COLORED”, I would yell “WHITE” even louder. And then the bickering would begin. White was so much more romantic and beautiful! Oh but the colored were more festive and interesting! We both had good points, and agreed that they could NOT be mixed. Every year we drew a line and put our father in the position of remembering who won the vote last year. So it became our system that one year we would do colored lights to appease my sister and the next year we would do white lights for me. (My brothers had no opinion other than getting the “decorating party” over with.)

It wasn’t until I was 22 years old that I first decorated a Christmas tree without my sister. There was no snow on the ground-obviously-because we were in San Diego and I thought that was the strangest thing ever. Christmas with NO snow? My coworkers thought I was crazy because - well, Christmas WITH snow would be weird! I carefully unpacked the lights as my father had all the previous years and asked myself the question - colored or white? There was no debating this year and I strung the colored lights on the tree as a very small visual tribute to my sister. I felt slightly closer to her despite the 3,500 miles between us.

I’ve been re-reading Little Women and can’t get chapter two out of my mind. The book follows the four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March – and is based on author Louisa May Alcott's childhood. It’s so beautifully written and full of small reminders of hope and joy despite it being a very different Christmas for the March girls that year. Robert March, the girls' father is a soldier in the Civil War and the family is getting by with very little money and even less contact with the outside world. The beauty in the story comes out when the March girls continually find small ways to celebrate what they DO have and to find small ways to help out friends in need from afar.

Sound familiar? We are coming up to a season that is normally PACKED with social gathering and defined by the joyous gathering of people-yet it’s looking a little different this year. Some of our loved ones are away fighting Covid, many have felt enormous financial hardship, and we are allowed very little contact with the outside world. Something Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy could relate to.

My husband and I got married in the wintertime 15 years ago. This meant my bridal shower was around December. In the planning of it, my sister asked each guest to come with a holiday ornament to give us to decorate our first Christmas tree. Guests chose ornaments that were reminiscent of where they were in the world during that time and wrote their names on the bottoms. Beautiful handmade ornaments, blown glass ornaments, personalized ornaments - you name it and we were gifted it. That idea my sister had has provided us with a robustly decorated tree all these years later.

Last night when we were decorating our tree, my three sons (who are still delighted at the thought of the “decorating party”) helped pull out the lights and ornaments from the attic. One by one I unwrapped the ornaments as I do every year - but this year there was a tear in my eye looking at the names written on the bottoms. My beloved family and friends may not get to gather around my tree this year. There won’t be the yearly piling of kids in my mother’s living room to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Christmas Eve service at church will be viewed through a screen. Yes, a very different Christmas indeed. I thought about how every year I have to decide between one thing or another because of how busy we are. We have time to make hot chocolate, but we don’t have time to bake Christmas cookies because hockey starts in an hour, or we have time for one jump in the snowbank but can’t take the time to build the whole snow fort because piano lessons start soon. Well in the spirit of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy finding little things to be joyful about, we DO have time this year, Everything else is cancelled. We will be making Christmas cards AND homemade gifts. We don’t have to choose because we have time to do all the holiday things - even if it’s with a smaller group than normal.

So when my husband pulled out the lights and asked as he does every year - colored or white? BOTH I said. Hang them both.

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